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CARTAGENA, Colombia — Exposing a rift with Israel, President Obama insisted Sunday that the United States has not “given anything away” in new talks with Iran as he defended his continued push for a diplomatic resolution to the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Mr. Obama said he refused to let the talks turn into a “stalling process,” but believed there was still time for diplomacy.
His assessment, delivered at the close of a Latin American summit in Colombia, came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the United States and world powers gave Tehran a “freebie” by agreeing to hold more talks next month.
Mr. Obama shot back: “The notion that somehow we’ve given something away or a ‘freebie’ would indicate Iran has gotten something. In fact, they’ve got some of the toughest sanctions that they’re going to be facing coming up in just a few months if they don’t take advantage of these talks.”
Still, Mr. Obama warned Iran, “The clock’s ticking.”
Winding down his three-day trip in the port city of Cartagena, Mr. Obama also sought to offer hope for a fresh start with Cuba, saying the United States would welcome the Communist-run island’s transition to democracy. Mr. Obama said the coming years could bring an opportunity for such a shift.
Standing alongside Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Mr. Obama also proclaimed a free-trade agreement between their countries as a win all around, even as labor leaders back home denounced it. He said the pact can be fully enforced next month, now that Colombia has enacted protections for workers and labor unions.
Mr. Obama had hoped to keep his role in the Summit of the Americas focused on the economy and the prospect of the region’s rapid economic rise as a growth opportunity for American businesses.
But that message was quickly overshadowed by an alleged prostitution scandal involving Secret Service personnel who were in Colombia to set up security for Mr. Obama’s trip. The President said Sunday that he expected a full, rigorous investigation of the allegations and said he would be angry if the accusations turn out to be true.
As Mr. Obama met with Latin American leaders, negotiators from the United States and five other world powers were in Turkey for a fresh round of nuclear talks with Iran. Although previous talks have done little to dissuade Iran from moving forward on its nuclear program, diplomats called the latest negotiations constructive and useful. Both sides agreed to hold more talks at the end of May.
The Israeli prime minister balked at the announcement of more talks, saying the intervening weeks would give Iran more time to continue enriching uranium without restrictions. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and says it does not seek a bomb.
Mr. Obama went to Colombia seeking to pitch an economic message that would appeal to voters back home. Implementation of the Colombian trade pact was a central part of that effort and won Mr. Obama praise Sunday from the U.S. business community.
Labor union officials, however, said Colombia has an abysmal record on union rights. Union members are a core Obama constituency but have opposed some of his efforts to expand free-trade deals, which they believe take jobs away from U.S. companies.
Under the terms of the trade pact, more than 80 percent of industrial and manufactured products exported from the United States and Colombia will immediately become duty-free, making it cheaper for U.S. businesses to sell to Colombia.